In my over forty years of practicing real estate law in Massachusetts, I have had clients in all sizes and shapes. Many of my clients have been satisfied with my services, others not so much. When I have disected what went wrong with the clients who were less than enchanted, I found that the old “C” word, communication, led to most of the disappointments on both sides.
With that inmid, I would submit the following set of rules to follow when considering attorneys to assist you in what will, perhaps, be the biggest single investment you will make in your lives.
1. Ask the prospective attorney the following questions:
a. Is real estate you primary area of practice? It seems so obvious, but many times you will have counsel who is “learning while you learn”. This is generally not a good thing.
b. Will you do this on a fixed fee basis or on an hourly basis? Many seasoned attorneys are not afraid to quote a fixed fee. Others will say “hourly” but will consider a “ceiling” on the amount of the fee. Some will day a fixed fee, with the understanding that if the deal goes way off the tracks, the parties may revisit the fee situation to assure that the attorney is not disadvataged when events really changed in the course of the transaction. In any event, too many people enter into a professional relationship with an attorney with no clear understanding of what the matter will cost, and that can lead to disatsifaction on both sides.
c. Whatever is agreed upon for fees, enter into a fee agreement with your attorney. This should set forth the amount of your retainer, if any, the hoursly rate if that is the way the transaction is structured and any other important aspects of the attorney’s representation.
d. Find out in advance if you can expect to be dealing with the attorney you slected most of the time. or if you will be dealing with an Associate or a Paralegal. My firm, Topkins & Bevans, is small, and one of my marketing approaches is “I am the A Team, and there is no B Team”. Other lawyers operate on a different basis. Find out in advance so you will not be frustrated because Mr. X or Ms Y is not returning your calls or emails.
2. Once you have established the rules wth your attorney, learn to live with them. Attorneys, like any other professionals, cannot manage through exception. Realize that the attorney has other clients, and that sometimes you will have to wait for a response.
3. Try to listen to the advice your attorney gives you. AsI said abopve, the purchase or sale of real estate is one of the most important things you will do in your financial life. Once you find the right attorney, listen to what he or she has to say. Many of us have been through thousands of transaction, and we know our crsft. Listen to what we tell you; we are on your side.